Bare

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Seine in Winter
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I had been here before, only 2 years and 3 months past, but it feels like a lifetime ago. The Seine then had been lined by stately trees adorned in the glorious colors of fall. Now the same trees are pale and bare, their branches thrown upwards in seeming surrender to a gray uncaring sky. The air then had been cool and crisp, the October sun giving light and warmth. Now, January, it is raining relentlessly, bringing the kind of cold that burrows deep into one’s bones.

And I? I am different too.

My eyes before had sparkled with excitement. “I’m crossing a street in Paris!” I’d beamed. “I’m drinking coffee in Paris!” I had soaked in the unrealness of a dream trip come true; I had thought the world wonderful. Now, the light in my eyes are somewhat dimmed by a layer of disillusion. I had learned, within a too short span of time, that some dreams do not survive a brush with reality.

Oh, well.

The Batobus at least is the same, I think, as I board the hop on-hop off service at its Hôtel de Ville stop. The boat’s transparent dome was perfect for such a wet and miserable day as this. One could cruise the Seine, see the Eiffel Tower, catch a glimpse of the Louvre and Notre-Dame, all from the boat’s warm and dry confines. It was also ideal for spotting the little charms along the river: the golden beasts of the Pont Alexandre III, the green bouquiniste stalls, the love locks, the bridges, the promising benches, even the various waterfowl that seemed enviably oblivious to the winter chill.

I spot an old silver camper near the Champs-Élysées dock and I wonder if someone was actually living in it. I wonder if I could live in something like it — be a traveler always, even at home. Then I wonder if it had been abandoned after all, if its owner had given up an itinerant life. Had the camper gone places I could only dream of? Was the wear and tear from the journey worth it? Had it traveled not wisely but well?

We pass by the Bateaux Mouches dock, where many of its boats were currently moored. Until tourism picks up again? Or only until later in the day? Did the winter slack leave some workers unemployed? What did they do for food? Did they hibernate until spring?

If only people can hibernate until the winters of their lives pass — until the pain, the paralysis wrought by grief is gone. But perhaps it is in these seasons that the seed is readied for bloom. Perfected, like wine and butterflies.

I hope so. I am in winter myself and I sometimes wonder if it will ever end.

Across the Musée d’Orsay, several rows of trees line the right bank, and I think: how beautiful it must be in spring, when the leaves burst forth and the trees come alive again. And how fitting it is that I am here in winter, when I too feel bare and barely alive.

The seasons will change. They must. Not even the harshest winters can stop the spring.

“Hang in there, trees,” I whisper, and in my mind I see them bending down their stiff, sad branches to pat my head and tell me the same thing.

 

Adapted from my journal entry last January 15, 2014 for the “Build Your Own” Weekly Writing Challenge. © Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

The SMALL-TOWN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT TRAINS Travel Manifesto

shoes

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I will see the world with wonder, with gratitude, with respect.
I will strive to stay, though ever moving, right in the happy middle: the intersection of longing and contentment. I will not close my eyes to the harsh realities of life and will endeavor to respond with compassion and action, but I will keep my rose-colored glasses on hand, in my carry-on, and remember to count my blessings.

I will not count how many countries I’ve been to, though I won’t think poorly of people who do. I will try to resist the temptation to count because I don’t want the number to be my motivation. I don’t want to travel just to tick a place off a list. I don’t want to say: “My name is X and I have been to Y out of Z countries,” though there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. I just don’t want to feel like I’ve left behind the rat race only to join the passport stamp race. I’m sure the number is much less than I would want it to be and much more than majority of the people in this planet will ever have the means to achieve.

I will travel because I want to, in the manner that I want to, and I will allow others the courtesy to do likewise. I hope never to catch myself saying those who can’t leave behind the comforts of home should stay home. I hope never to become the sort of person who thinks I have the right or omniscience to dictate who should and shouldn’t travel, and how. I hope never to get sucked into “traveler versus tourist,” a distinction that may have started as a well-meaning attempt to describe different levels of interaction with a place, but is now too often a none-too-subtle ploy to pat one’s own back: a traveler is me and a tourist is someone not like me. I will always endeavor to dive deep into a place, to hear the hidden drum beat to which it marches. But I will not judge those who rush from place to place, for it may be the only time they have, with the wealth they have or lack thereof, to see the places they’ve always longed to see with their own eyes. I will not be the sort of self-validating traveler who thinks he is better than people who have never been outside their hometowns. I believe — no matter what Mark Twain says — that a person who stays in one corner of the earth all his life can still be capable of “broad, wholesome, charitable views of men.” I believe a person’s passport does not define his character. And I believe people who have truly sucked the marrow of the road will have hearts too full to find fault in others.

I will challenge myself. I will talk to locals and fellow travelers even though I’m someone who usually keeps to herself. I will try to capture an experience, in words and in images, the best way I know how, but I will also take time to just savor the moment, that even if my notebook gets lost or my camera gets stolen, the memory will have been burned into my heart to keep forever.

I will not stop dreaming. Someday I will see Antarctic penguins, northern lights, Scottish highlands, cherry blossoms, sunny vineyards, gloomy cliffs, pink beaches, purple trees, glorious lions in the wild…. And I will encourage people to dream. I will never tire of telling them: someday you will see Antarctic penguins, northern lights, Scottish highlands, cherry blossoms, sunny vineyards, gloomy cliffs, pink beaches, purple trees, and glorious lions in the wild.

I will inspire by being ordinary. There are too many inspiring stories of people who leave everything behind in order to travel the world. I will tell stories of people who stay, who find contentment in what would seem a humdrum life, who work and go home and save $10 a month in their travel fund, most of the paycheck having already gone to milk for their kids and educational funds and utility bills…and who, after 10 years, finally go on a whirlwind 5-day dream trip to Paris. I will celebrate the courage of working with what you have, the heroism of looking at the banal and saying: “This is my life and I am happy with it.”

I will travel whenever I can, for as long as I can, and while doing so I will create a home worth going back to. I want to be excited to leave and happy to return. I will create such a home that when my children and my children’s children go out, in their turn, to explore the world, no matter where their feet may take them, they will always feel that the best place on earth to be is still home.

 

The SMALL-TOWN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT TRAINS Travel Manifesto” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

 

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